TORONTO — The big names are missing from Spain’s lineup for next month’s Davis Cup tie against Canada.
Rafael Nadal won’t be ready to return from injury. David Ferrer is skipping the tie after a long run at the Australian Open. Fernando Verdasco is giving it a miss too.
However, it will still be very tough for Canada to knock off the top-ranked nation when they meet Feb. 1-3 in a World Group first-round matchup at the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver.
The Spanish team will include world No. 11 Nicolas Almagro, doubles stars Marcel Granollers and Marc Lopez and Davis Cup rookie Albert Ramos.
Canada will counter with world No. 15 Milos Raonic of Thornhill, Ont., fellow youngster Vasek Pospisil of Vancouver along with Davis Cup veterans Frank Dancevic of Niagara Falls, Ont., and Toronto’s Daniel Nestor.
"Over the last couple of years we have really established a solid group of players who are all passionate about playing Davis Cup," Canadian captain Martin Laurendeau said Tuesday in a release. "I’m extremely happy with the group coming to Vancouver and feel confident about returning to a place that showed us such tremendous fan support last year."
The winner of the tie will move on to the World Group quarter-finals. The loser falls into a playoff tie that it would need to win in order to stay at the elite level for 2014.
"Spain is going to be a real challenge," Laurendeau said. "They are the top team in the world with incredible depth. They have 13 players in the top 100 alone so no matter what team they’re bringing, it will be stacked with talent.
"Our guys will train hard all week and be at their best for the weekend but we will also need a loud crowd on our side to help us pull off this upset."
There are two singles matches set for the Friday of Davis Cup week, a doubles match on Saturday and reverse singles on Sunday.
If the 15th-ranked Raonic can record a pair of singles victories, the Canadians could have a chance for an upset. They’ll need to get a boost from the home crowd and hope the indoor hardcourt gives them an advantage on the Spaniards, who are strongest on clay.
Even without Nadal, Ferrer and Verdasco — all ranked in the top 25 — Spain is still a strong favourite. Almagro is an experienced player who boasts a sparkling 8-0 Davis Cup record on clay, but is just 1-3 on hardcourts.
Granollers gives Spain a double weapon — he holds the No. 32 position in the singles rankings and has enjoyed success on the doubles court with Lopez. They closed out the 2012 season by winning the ATP World Tour Finals in London.
Ramos is also a solid option at No. 51 in the singles rankings. Alex Corretja will serve as the team captain.
Canada has the world’s fifth-ranked doubles player in Nestor, who holds the national record for most Davis Cup wins (44), doubles victories (29) and ties played (42). However, he teams with international players on tour and will be hard-pressed to match the Spanish duo’s game with Dancevic or Pospisil.
Raonic was hampered by a foot problem in his recent straight-set loss to Switzerland’s Roger Federer in the fourth round at the Australian Open. He underwent an MRI exam before the match but it turned out to be just minor inflammation.
"He’s fine, no worries about Milos," Laurendeau said.
The 12th-ranked Canadian side has quite a dropoff in its singles rankings after the hard-serving right-hander. Pospisil is next at No. 127 and Dancevic is at No. 165.
Jesse Levine of Ottawa, Filip Peliwo of Vancouver and Toronto’s Adil Shamasdin will also be travelling to Vancouver with the Canadian team as part of an extended squad of players.
Spain won the only previous Davis Cup meeting between the two countries, topping Canada 4-1 on outdoor clay courts at Murcia’s La Manga Club in 1991.
Nadal hasn’t played since last June, mainly due to tendinitis in his left knee. He is scheduled to return to the ATP Tour on Feb. 4 at the Chile Open in Vina del Mar.
Nadal was not in the lineup when Ferrer guided the five-time Davis Cup champions to last year’s final, where they lost to Croatia. Canada defeated South Africa last September to qualify for the World Group.